Update (23.02.2018): After two days of hearings, the trial was adjourned until 7 March. The court decided that the two defendants who are on the run and the journalist Emre Soncan should be tried separately, reducing the number of defendants in this trial to 26. Fourteen of them have still to present their defence. A verdict is now expected on 7 or 8 March.
22.02.2018 - Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its condemnation of the politically-motivated trial of 29 journalists and media workers that resumed today in Istanbul and is expected to end tomorrow. Many of them could get long jail terms. Twenty-one of them have already been held for the past 18 months.
The trial’s imminent conclusion comes in the wake of the life sentences that three well known journalists, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, received last week for allegedly abetting the July 2016 coup attempt that the government blames on the once influential Gülen movement.
Because the defendants in this trial worked for media outlets that supposedly supported the Gülen movement, they are alleged to have constituted its “media wing.”
On 6 February, the prosecutor requested 15-year jail terms for 23 of the defendants* for “membership of a terrorist organization.” He also requested prison for Murat Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu and Muhterem Tanık for “supporting a terrorist organization,” the withdrawal of the proceedings against Hüseyin Aydın and a separate trial for two defendants who are on the run, Said Sefa and Bülent Ceyhan.
The prosecution’s case has focused on the defendants’ journalistic activities and political views, and above all on the fact that they worked for media outlets such as Zaman, Meydan, Nokta, Bugün TV and Haberdar, which it has portrayed as Gülen mouthpieces.
Although the prosecutor recognized that Aksoy and Çulhaoğlu have “no link with the illegal organization and its ideology,” he nonetheless accused them of “legitimizing the actions of the organization,” of “presenting it as a victim” and of “discrediting the justice system” by criticizing police raids on Zaman and other pro-Gülen entities since 2014.
At the same time, the prosecutor requested the withdrawal of the charge of “trying to overthrow the government and constitutional order” against 13 of these journalists – an extremely serious charge that was added in March 2017 solely to ensure that they remained in detention after a court ordered their conditional release. The three judges who ordered their release were suspended a few days later.
“The Turkish courts are again being used to execute an act of political revenge,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We again demand the immediate release of all journalists held without proof of direct and individual involvement in violent acts. This trial highlights the urgent need to reform Turkey’s terrorism law and to lift the state of emergency, which are being used to silence critics.”
Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.
* Ali Akkuş, Abdullah Kılıç, Bayram Kaya, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Emre Soncan, Habip Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Seyid Kılıç, Ufuk Şanlı, Yakup Çetin, Cuma Uluş, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Ahmet Memiş, Davut Aydın, Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, Oğuz Usluer, Atilla Taş et Yetkin Yıldız.